Stories of Citizen Diplomacy: Connecting Philadelphia to the World

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Over the past few days, many of you have reached out about the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, sharing stories of past exchanges and updates from visitors you have hosted, as we all try to make sense of the news today. Like you, my team and I have been struggling with what we’ve been watching. A mixture of disbelief, heartache, and fear for our friends. As an international organization, Citizen Diplomats feel this deeply.

Citizen Diplomacy was founded in the wake of the Second World War, as part of a national movement to increase mutual understanding between Americans and our fellow citizens around the world – a movement to create a more peaceful world. Citizen Diplomats, past and present, have made many friends over the past 68 years from Russia, Ukraine, and other Eastern European countries. Right now, in the Citizen Diplomat Academy, students from Philadelphia and six other countries are learning alongside fellow teens in our Sister City, Nizhny Novgorod.

At times like this, we feel every single connection we have built between the international community and the people of Philadelphia. It’s hard to ignore someone’s humanity after they have shared dinner in your home.

I keep thinking of an email shared by two of our favourite members, Branch and Joan Heller, as a reminder of “Why we do what we do.” More than a decade ago, Branch and Joan hosted a Russian journalist, Elena. They’ve kept in touch through the ups and downs of U.S. foreign policy. And before the pandemic, they received a gift from Elena with the following message:

“In my memory, our acquaintance happened quite recently, although it happened more than 10 years ago. At present, our countries have not good relations. But thanks to you, I will always be a friend of the United States.”

Citizen Diplomacy opposes violence of any kind against innocent people. Through exchanges like the one between Branch, Joan, and Elena, we, as humans, promote mutual respect and understanding. A more peaceful and prosperous world starts with you, one person and one new friendship at a time.

Our thoughts are with our global friends in the days and weeks ahead. If you’d like to help those in Ukraine, this NPR Article lists a few organizations that will help ensure your support reaches those in need.

Thank you all for your commitment to a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Take care,

Siobhán

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